OLD TRAFFORD (first day of four): Lancashire 156-4 v Warwickshire 106 all out

Anyone who has ever read Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure will be familiar with the sensation. A tale that seems to have reached its nadir just keeps getting worse.

In the story, the hero's life is in tatters. He is evicted and loses his job. When it appears things are at their worst, his children kill themselves. Then he goes blind, his partner leaves him and he dies. It's not full of belly laughs. Warwickshire's season is following a similar route.

Just as it has appeared that things could not be worse, then they deteriorate. Whether at The Rose Bowl, Canterbury, Scarborough or Edgbaston, the Bears have produced performances so horrible that it seemed that the only way was up.

Yesterday at Old Trafford, however, they plunged to new depths. Dismissed for 106, their lowest score since 1999 (when they were bowled out for 86 by Essex), Warwickshire produced such a spineless batting performance that it was almost embarrassing.

There are no excuses. Winning the toss in perfect batting conditions, they simply lacked the stomach for

the fight. In temperament and technique they were found wanting. It was their lowest score after winning the toss and batting since 1986 (when they were dismissed for 88 at The Oval) and the lowest score by any side at Old Trafford since 1999.

The coach, Mark Greatbatch, has taken most of the blame for events this summer. Fair enough; this is the team he has shaped. In terms of improving techniques or spirit, he has failed and will surely suffer the consequences. But these players need to take a long, hard look at themselves.

It is not just the coach's fault that they are batting so pathetically. It's not just the coach's fault that they are dropping catches. It's not just the coach's fault that the bowlers are failing to extract anything from any pitch.

They have every advantage a player could wish for - video analysis, a psychologist, medical advice and superb facilities - yet still appear utterly shellshocked under pressure. In the end, they need to take some responsibility for their performances, too.

They made things far too easy for Lancashire yesterday. Although the hosts bowled well, there was little lateral movement available and 400 would be a par score. Lancashire simply bowled with hostility and Warwickshire folded meekly.

Not for the first time, either. Whether it's Ryan McLaren at Kent, Ottis Gibson et al at Durham, Matthew Hoggard and Darren Gough at Yorkshire or this Lancashire attack, Warwickshire's batsmen have shown a disturbing lack of composure against anything

approaching fast bowling. They don't, as Corporal Jones would say, like it up 'em.

Ian Westwood began the procession. He mis-timed a pull at a ball outside off stump to mid-on before Jonathan Trott, devoid of balance and confidence, pushed at an innocuous ball outside off stump and edged to the wicketkeeper.

Alex Loudon, again horribly off balance, was beaten by one that cut back and gave a catch to the 'keeper off the inside edge, before Michael Powell left a straight ball that hit off stump. Luke Parker guided a hook shot into the hands of Luke Sutton while Tim Ambrose was beaten by a fast yorker.

Had it not been for a couple of let-offs in the slips, the visitors would not have reached 100. Ant Botha scored the majority of his runs through the slips before gloving a bouncer up in the air while Jimmy Anyon also survived two boundaries through the slip cordon.

Warwickshire's bowlers offered some consolation in the evening session. Mark Chilton pulled a short ball to long leg while Neil Carter hurled himself in the fray with typical commitment and was rewarded with two wickets, one courtesy of a fine slip catch by Powell.

Steven Croft nibbled at a fine short ball that was angled in but then left him off the seam, before Stuart Law's fine innings was ended when he edged his attempt at an extravagant drive. The dismissal of Paul Horton, surprisingly adjudged to have edged the final ball of the day, was a real bonus, but few can believe that Warwickshire will escape relegation now.

To make matters worse, Kent are well on the way to full batting points against Hampshire. The new coach of Warwickshire will, no doubt, be leading a double promotion campaign.

Two men who will not be part of that challenge are Michael Barnes and Adam Shantry, both of whom have been released. Barnes' release is no surprise at all. Despite claiming five dismissals on each of his List A and first-class matches, he also missed enough chances to raise questions about his concentration and ability. A lack of runs and some poor reports about his dedication mean he was doomed some time ago.

Shantry is more unfortunate. He produced one of the few good spells by Warwickshire this year when dismantling Sussex's top-order at Hove and, when conditions suited, could be a fine swing bowler.

A first-class average of 20 hints at real class, though a lack of pace hampers him. Aged 24 and with a history of injury, he may struggle to find another club. Shantry also had a mind of his own. Such attributes are not welcomed at Edgbaston these days but they will stand him in good stead for life after cricket.

Few players would have bothered to travel on the supporters' coach to watch their colleagues in the Second XI Trophy final, as Shantry did last year; few would have had the humility to apologise to supporters after Warwickshire failed to finish off Sussex at Hove. Even fewer would have bothered to take the time to visit and phone sick supporters, as he has done, without the knowledge of the club.